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Volunteer firefighter a top student at academy

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SNOQUALMIE - Michael Wallace is 36 years old but he just graduated at the top of his class.

The Snoqualmie native and volunteer Snoqualmie firefighter graduated from the Washington State Fire Training Academy in North Bend last month. The intense 10-week course got Wallace something he expected, his certification that will lead to his becoming a full-time firefighter, and something unexpected, a place in the Chief's Company of his graduating class, an honor bestowed only to elite students.

Wallace grew up in Snoqualmie, the son of former Snoqualmie Councilwoman Colleen Johnson. He graduated from Mount Si High School in 1986 and later enlisted in the Marine Corps, where he served for four active years that included a deployment to the Middle East during the Gulf War.

After the Marine Corps, Wallace returned to the Valley and became a volunteer firefighter for Snoqualmie, which at the time was serviced by Eastside Fire and Rescue (EFR). Wallace's father was a firefighter in Georgia and he said the knack for being a firefighter was in his blood.

"It [reason for becoming a firefighter] is an enjoyment you get from helping people," he said.

Wallace left EFR after a year and went to work elsewhere, but he missed being a firefighter. Once he got a job closer to home and once Snoqualmie formed its own fire department, Wallace felt better about coming back and went through the department's own academy.

In order to be brought on full time in the Snoqualmie department, however, firefighters are required to get their Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Firefighter One certifications. One way of completing the Firefighter One certification is by attending the Washington State Fire Training Academy, a program Wallace really wanted to attend because of all the "burn time" (time spent fighting simulated fires) the academy offered.

"I really learned a lot," Wallace said. "It was really great hands-on experience."

While watching recruits attend class, get to know classmates and fight fires, the academy's instructors take note of who excels. They look over a long list of personal qualities that cover everything from not taking credit for something one didn't do to plotting a clear course for becoming a firefighter. Each instructor takes note and leaves their recommendations behind. Those votes are tallied and the Chief's Company is announced at graduation.

Wallace's graduation was April 23. He was one of five chosen out of his class of 34.

"I was the second name read off and I just sat there kind of shocked," said Wallace. "I didn't know anything about it."

Being chosen to the Chief's Company was secondary, however, to becoming a firefighter for the Snoqualmie Fire Department. Wallace has wanted to service his hometown community for years and will now be able to become what he admired when he was growing up, an integral part of the community.

"This is where I am and this is where I want to be," he said.

Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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